Tag: grimdark

For Holy Terra: The Tenebrous Wraiths

If you’re into Warhammer 40,000 I heartily recommend the blog For Holy Terra. They recently had a cool little “Reverse Painting Contest,” and I thought I’d share my entry with you, since this week has been extremely busy and I have nothing else prepared.

++++++++++ CLASSIFIED INFORMATION FOLLOWS – EYES ONLY – PUNISHABLE BY DEATH ++++++++++

Tenebrous Wraiths

We were unprepared for the sheer amount of civilians turned by this cult. You have to understand, most of the men under General Corvinus’ command were career Guardsmen who’d chosen to settle on Serevar, raising families and establishing homes. To see those homes burned and familes and friends turned to mindless, screaming followers of some blaspehmous god was too much for some to bear.

Even the sight of the Chaos forces arriving through tears in the Warp didn’t shake some of them from their catatonic states. The laspistols of the Commissars were working overtime. I was worried that so many summary executions would leave us without adequate forces to defend ourselves. The cultists had taken out our orbital links. Help would not arrive in time. It looked more and more like my Kasrkin and myself would be the last line of defense between those stalwart enough to hold to their faith and the seething, stripping, screaming tide of human flesh craving their blood.

We’d taken our positions. Thoroughfare barriers made for poor fortifications against the traitors and their archaic plasma weapons and artillery, but it was all we had. We told people to stay in their homes. We checked and re-checked our hellguns. We listened as the command post was overrun, General Corvinus falling back to behind our line. And I lead my men in prayer.

When I heard the bike engines, I feared the worst.

I couldn’t see them, at first, but I could hear them. When I did catch a glimpse, it took precious seconds to register what I’d seen. It wasn’t the garish colors and deadly spikes of the enemy armor. It was gray, like slate or cold steel, blending into the ferracrete of the buildings. Other figures took positions on top of the buildings behind us. I heard the phut-phut-phut of sniper rifle fire, and former friends and family began dropping, perfect holes in their faces, trampled underfoot by the meaty shields pushed by the traitorous warriors.

The sight gave my men hope. We opened fire with our hellguns. We burned body after body as they hurtled towards us. I couldn’t count on our weapons being as effective on the ancient but powerful armor once worn by the Emperor’s finest warriors, but what choice did we have? Kasrkin don’t back down. Even when the traitors broke rank and charged us, raising vicious chainswords and opening fire with their bolters, we stood fast. We began to fall but we returned fire. I prayed I would live long enough to take at least a few of the blasphemous monsters with me.

And then the drop pods began to fall.

The one that landed directly behind us shook the ground, forcing us to our knees. By the time we recovered, between each one of us left standing was a Space Marine with a heavy weapon. In the field, the pods split open and gleaming warriors in the same grey armor I’d seen poured into the fray. One was sheathed in blue, the mark of the psykers they call Librarians. Was he the reason they’d arrived when they did? Had the path of the Chaos forces through the Warp gained their attention? Whatever the cause, the Space Marines destroyed the traitors and their heretic followers in short order.

General Corvinus came out to greet his saviors. I was too tired to protest. The Librarian met him, then stepped aside for an even taller warrior. He carried his helmet under one arm, his right hand resting on the bolt pistol holstered at his side. I heard Corvinus greet him as “High Commander”. They traded a few words before the High Commander drew his sidearm and shot General Corvinus in the head. The Space Marine then turned his attention to me.

“You will lead these men.”

With that, he and his battle-brothers left the field. My promotion was waiting for me when we returned to the garrison. We later learned Corvinus was engaged in heresey and Chaos worship himself, at least according to Inquisitorial sources. The agents who informed me of this also disclosed the Inquisitor who employs them is upset that the Space Marines arrived here before they could. That is, however, their opinion even if it is only one I share.

Repairs on the planet’s surface continue and members of the Ecclesiarchy minister to the survivors. All is well, for now.

 

General Abram Kadeen
Interim Commander, Callimar 41st, Callimar Proxima
Report Filed [date redacted]

++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Educate men without faith and you but make them clever devils. ++++

History:

Tenebrous WraithsThe Imperial Wraiths were mustered out of the Imperial Fists during the Second Founding. The goal was for the Force Commander at the time, Titus Obscurus, to take initiates showing promise in infiltration and develop those skills along with standard combat training to carry out covert operations against the enemies of the Imperium. The Imperial Wraiths were ceded the second moon of Xellious VII in the Hawking Sector, with other planets in the sector serving as recruitment worlds.

However, not long after the chapter was established, tragedy struck. An excavation on Xellious IV unveiled an ancient artefact of unspeakable power. Before the Inquisition could intercede, the artefact was activated and Chaos energies swept over the planet. Aspects of every unclean god overthrew the minds and bodies of the population, and traitorous legions spewed forth from the Warp. Within a fortnight, the entire sector was in turmoil and the fortress-monestary on the second moon of the seventh planet was scoured by the fires of Tzeench.

After pitched combat with these forces, the Imperium managed to reclaim the sector. It seemed, however, that the Imperial Wraiths had been lost. Decades passed before evidence to the contrary emerged. On the other side of the Imperium, before any other Space Marines could respond to a planetary distress call, a massive cathedral-dreadnought dating back to the Horus Heresy emerged from the Warp. Drop pods in shades of grey rained from the sky, producing Space Marines with grim determination and heavy weaponry. They bore iconography that was a pale reflection of their previous symbols and called themselves the Tenebrous Wraiths.

Rumors are that it was one of the Wraith’s own Librarians who oversaw the excavation of the artefact that nearly destroyed the chapter and they have chosen to remain apart from their battle brothers out of shame. An even more insidious contention is that they are in the throes of a Chaos god, a tool of deception to lull mankind into a false sense of security. While no injunction has been issued forbidding them from approaching Holy Terra as yet, the Dies Irae Veniendum Est invokes as much dread as it does relief when it appears in orbit around a world. Their unpredictable movements, taciturn behavior and nihilistic prayers make others uneasy, but in combat they are every bit as implacable and righteous as their more boisterous battle brothers.

Organization:

In an attempt to allay some fears amongst the Inquisition, High Commander Brutus Obscurus submitted a general report on chapter strength to the Ordo Hereticus. His first contention was that at no time has the chapter deviated from the Codex Astartes, despite tumultuous periods in which the chapter astropaths struggled to navigate their massive home successfully through the Warp. He claimed the cathedral-dreadnought is home to four battle companies, each consisting of three tactical squads, three devastator squads and two assault squads, as well as a dedicated recruit company and a command company of five librarians, six chaplains, four squads of veteran space marines. The report contains a total mustered strength of just under four hundred battle brothers.

The only individuals permitted to ascend to the Dies Irae Veniendum Est are recruits. Dignitaries, regional commanders and other Space Marines are always met elsewhere. This makes it difficult to gauge the exact nature and capabilities of this vessel, which is slightly larger than a battle barge but appears to carry fewer weapons. The Chapter does not maintain any other battle barges, only a handful of strike cruisers to escort their final bastion. Manufactorium parts and raw materials are either acquired in the field of battle or ‘requisitioned’ from planetary governments. Still, the Techmarines of the Tenebrous Wraiths appear to be up to date on current pattens of Imperial wargear, and no Space Marine of the chapter bears any appearance of Chaos influence.

Recently the Tenebrous Wraiths acquired the means to produce Terminator armour from the forges aboard the cathedral-dreadnought, but the Techpriests of Mars insist that such manufacture is time-consuming and costly in raw materials. Nevertheless, the chapter’s armored strength remains diminished, with only six Land Raider variants, eight Predators and two Vindicators. They have no Whirlwinds or Land Speeders to speak of. They do, however, have a great number of Rhinos, Razorbacks and bikes, and it appears that the Dies Irae Veniendum Est was retrofitted in such a way that most of its planetary bombardment capabilities have been replaced with increased Drop Pod capacity.

Heraldry:

The cloaked spectre of the Imperial Wraiths is gone, replaced with the stark skull-and-scythe iconongraphy the chapter now bears.

Previously, the colors of the chapter were white with yellow trim, in honor of Dorn’s Imperial Fists. After their disgrace and absence, they opted for a gray pallate with brass trim that harkens back to the glory days before the Horus Heresey. The left pauldron always bears the icon of the chapter, while the right is colored to match one’s squad: white for scout, green for tactical, orange for devastator, red for assault and silver for veterans.

Tactics:

The Wraiths often dispatch a Thunderhawk with scouts on bikes before making their main assault. These scouts report on enemy positions and strength. Once the field is mapped, drop pods rain from the sky. Against entrenched enemies, armored units may be dispatched, but in those cases the task of the armor is to breach the enemy defenses to allow rapid transports to surge into the enemy and dispense death by bolter and chainsword.

++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: It is better to die for the Emperor than to live for yourself. ++++

“Let it be known we choose to stand in shadow.
We who have seen Man’s heroes become villains.
We who remember the best of us falling to the worst.
We who seek to cleanse our Galaxy of our weaknesses.
Let it be known we protect the light of the Empire,
and in its shadow we stand eternal and vengeful.
We are the Wraiths. We shall not forget.
From the Shadows! To OBLIVION!” – Pre-battle benediction of the Tenebrous Wraiths

An Aborted Dark Heresy Experiment

Artist unknown, will happily credit

My original plan for what follows was to get people at conventions around a table at night for a little Dark Heresy. It’s been a while since I’ve been to a convention and I’ll probably be far too busy at PAX East to run a role-playing game. Still, I thought some of you might find the following take on pre-generated character dossiers interesting. The following tidbits of data are meant to help a player choose a character, without imposing things like looks or gender upon them and allowing them to fill in a few blanks while giving them a general structure to work with.

][ +++++++++ INQUISITOR'S EYES ONLY +++++++++ ][
][ ++++ INTERCEPTION PUNISHABLE BY DEATH ++++ ][

AUTHOR: Brother Ignatius, Comptroller, Office of Inquisitorial Logistics & Tabulation, Calixis Sector
RECIPIENT: Inquisitor Tyburn Graves, Ordo Hereticus, Calixis Sector
SUBJECT: Dossiers – I through III

SALUTATION: To my most esteemed lord, Tyburn Graves, your most humble servant Ignatius extends greetings.

INTRODUCTION: Per your instructions I have begun parsing the observational reports from various sources to determine the candidates most likely to accept an invitation to become an Acolyte in your service.

DOSSIER I: The Adept
LOCATION: Office of Calixian Conclave High Council, Lucid Palace, Hive Sibellus, Scintilla, Calixis Sector
CURRENT POSITION: Archivist
HISTORY: Native to Scintilla. Not born to nobility or wealth. Lack of physical prowess precluded subject from inclusion in Imperial Guard. Natural ability for languages and literacy caused invitation to Calixian Conclave High Council Archives.
CURRICULUM VITAE: Noted for meticulous record-keeping, concise reports and ability to meet deadlines. No indication of career advancement efforts at this time. Has research several Inquisitorial visits and functions taking place in and around Lucid Palace, Hive Sibellus, Scintilla. Knowledgable in various languages and studies of history and local lore.
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: Introverted and disinclined to engage in major social activity. Keeps quarters within Lucid Palace well-appointed and clean. Curious in pursuit of knowledge and new languages.
RECOMMENDATION: Extend invitation through official channels of Conclave High Council, with incentives including hazard pay, recommendations to superiors and access to Inquisitorial records (lowest levels, monitored usage).

DOSSIER II: The Psyker
LOCATION: Void Vessel Oculus Obscurum, last seen orbiting Grangold, Calixis Sector
CURRENT POSITION: Sanctionite
HISTORY: Born on spacefaring vessel later destroyed by xenos (ref: Dark Eldar raids on Calixis Sector). Transfered to Black Ships upon discovery of psyker potential. Passed sanctioning test and shipped back to Calixis Sector for tutelage of scholars aboard Oculus Obscurum.
CURRICULUM VITAE: Shows potential in disciplines of telepathy and telekinesis. Has caused no accidental deaths of other Sanctionites. Consistently clear of taint from daemons, the Warp or insidious thought of any kind.
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: Curious about life planetside. Unused to non-psyker interactions. Optimistic, confident in abilities, views Emperor and Imperial servants as trusted shepherds and holy folk.
RECOMMENDATION: Provide temporary lodgings on Scintilla once communication with Oculus Obscurum established, offer payment and training under Inquisitorial psykers.

DOSSIER III: The Tech-Priest
LOCATION: Ambulatory Sub-Structures, Ambulon, Scintilla, Calixis Sector
CURRENT POSITION: Technographer
HISTORY: Descended from long line of servants to the Guild Peripatetica, Ambulon, Scintilla, Calixis Sector. Raised to assist in maintenance of city.
CURRICULUM VITAE: Has used knowledge of machine workings to cut off portions of the city as arbitrators have pursued criminals. Known for inspection of outside technology to compare with works from Ambulon. Has applied for work aboard land trains to Gunmetal City or Sibellus several times (all denied).
PSYCHOLOGICAL PROFILE: Thirsts for further knowledge of new machines. Devoted to worship of Machine God and believes all machines related and none are insurmountable. Supremely focused on work and technology, somewhat terse with biological life forms.
RECOMMENDATION: Approve work aboard land train to Sibellus and continue making transfers until aboard vessel of choice.

][ ++++++++++ THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: ++++++++++ ][
Educate men without faith and you but make them clever devils.
][ ++++++++++++ END TRANSMISSION ++++++++++++ ][

Dark Heresy Dossiers: Introduction

Courtesy Fantasy Flight Games

I’m planning on attending MEPACon Fall 2011, and while I’ll be doing demos of both Maschine Zeit and Amaranthine, I’ve been interested in starting a new ongoing campaign. In light of Honor and Blood’s potential return during the convention and my interest in a long-running Legend of the Five Rings game that will also be there, I thought there might be some interest in adding a grimdark sci-fi horror-adventure to the mix.

Rather than simply saying “here are your characters, let’s go” or “okay, here’s how you build characters, we can start playing in two hours,” I’m going to opt for a mix. Players interested in joining the campaign will have a choice of nine different Dossiers, each describing a character on a different career path. Instead of just laying down stats, the Dossiers will instead give a vague notion of a character’s background and set up a few baseline numbers, from which players can build their avatars in various ways.

I think this approach will save time, add intrigue and facilitate storytelling. Getting some of the basic stuff out of the way and focusing mostly on what players want to do to make characters their own, rather than starting from scratch, will help the group get right to the action, especially if someone doesn’t get to the table until others are settled in. But not all of the interesting stuff is limited to that gaming table.

You see, after the initial events that bring everybody together, the events of the adventure as well as aspects from the Dossiers will be brought up to players via email. Players will be encouraged to keep in touch with the Judge and each other. When players gather again in person, the idea will be that much has gone on behind the scenes between meetings, giving them stories to tell each other that will build and enhance their characters even further.

Everyone will have secrets, ties to their pasts and people they’ve influenced, be they enemies or allies. Views on the Imperium, the Inquisition, the Calixis Sector and one’s fellow Acolytes are bound to change. And all of this information, these events and the choices players take, will be added to their Dossiers by the dutiful servants of the Inquisition.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting the initial Dossiers here. I’m looking forward to MEPACon, and I’m hoping this notion will have others looking forward to it as well.

On The Grim, Dark Far Future

Artist unknown, will happily credit
Practical armour and sweet hats are in this season throughout the Imperium.

I’ve gone through a few periods in my life where I’ve had more disposable income than I’ve known what to do with. Actually, I take that back, I knew EXACTLY what to do with it: buy more games! I used to play Warhammer 40,000 on actual tabletops and I was into Magic: the Gathering way back in high school. Since then I’ve lost most of my old cards and miniatures, the former because I was a blinking idiot who just gave away tons of valuable cards and the latter because minis can sell well. Nowadays my primary interest in Magic is the Commander casual variant, mostly because I no longer have those piles of cash, and as for 40k, I’ve discovered that I’ve enjoyed the lore and setting more than the painting and dice-rolling.

Being a storyteller, I’m more interested in the motivations and personalities of the figures that march across tabletops around the world than I am in their ballistic skill and toughness. It’s not just because character sheets, pencils and a bag of Doritos for a game of Dark Heresy is cheaper than a 1,000 point army. There are other reasons, grounded more in the setting itself.

The Far Future is Baroque

So many things about the galaxy 40,000 years in the future is so ostentatious I can’t help but smile. Just look at the cover art for any of the Space Marine army books. There’s ornate armor with ridiculous shoulder pads, guns the size of compact cars and gilded skulls everywhere. It’s the sort of baroque sense of style that would make the architects of the Vatican blush.

For some reason, the design mentality of the fashions and buildings of the 41st century is rooted deeply in the 17th or so. These structures, constructs and trappings have the feeling of a people desperately trying to impose some order and permanence to a galaxy in constant turmoil. “If we weigh these things down with heavy gold accents, seals of the Imperium and grim iconography, they won’t just get swallowed up by the Warp or a tide of Orks or some other xenos invasion!” Whatever the motivation behind these design choices, it makes the worlds of the Imperium stand out, at least in my mind.

Corruption Done Right

There’s a joke going around that every Blizzard plot is centered around corruption. Dragon X becomes corrupted and it’s down to Spastic Group of Players Y or Knaak Author Avatar Z to sort it out. Swap “dragon” with “Queen of Blades” and you have StarCraft. Swap “Queen of Blades” with “everybody ever” and presto, a Diablo plot. Like more than a few things, Blizzard has been cribbing notes from Games Workshop on this, except that Games Workshop does it right.

Instead of just “whoa, big bad voodoo whatsis over there is corrupt, let’s go destroy/try to redeem it!”, any 40k story worth its bolter ammunition steeps itself in paranoia and doubt. It’s not just that someone or something has become corrupted by Chaos or psyker-induced madness or a heretical idea like unity of races or freedom of thought or the Eldar being pretty. You, yes you, may become corrupted in the course of the narrative, especially if you’re in a tabletop game. Like proper Lovecraftian/psychological horror, the truly terrifying things aren’t just what you can smack with a chainsword, they’re what coil around inside of you, the fear and the doubt and the ambition and the rage. Things like this form the basis of good drama, character development and tension, and while a lot of Blizzard’s stories gloss over this sort of thing, fiction and tabletoping in 40k thrusts you right into it.

Yes, The Grimdark

You’ve probably heard the Warhammer 40k tagline: “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war.” In addition to baroque trappings and ever-present dangers of becoming something twisted and despicable, you have obscenely high death counts any time armed engagements happen, horrifyingly devastating weapons, a massive empire that suspects everybody and everything of treason or heresy or both, and cybernetic augmentations that are the exact opposite of Deus Ex’s “awesome and visually appealing” ones. In the new game, that is; everybody looks pretty bad in the original Deus Ex.

All of this adds up to an undeniably oppressive atmosphere, the sort of dour doom and gloom present in many post-apocalyptic works. However, in the case of 40k, the galaxy-sweeping catastrophe either hasn’t happened yet or is in fact in the process of happening. It gives the characters in the story something to struggle against other than the villain of the week or a pile of antagonist-shaped statistics. And 40k never goes the World of Darkness route by giving the inevitable end a face and a name. It could come out of the Eye of Terror or in the form of a titanic wave of Tyranids, sure; but it could also happen due to the actions of our protagonists, people with sympathize and root for. Some might decry the apparent absurdity of the ever-present ‘grimdark’ of the universe in question, but to me there’s a great amount of depth and nuance to be had if you’re willing to work for it.

I may never paint another miniature or buy another army book for Warhammer 40,000 again. But I still find its setting and themes oddly compelling. Also, I’m more than willing to start a Dark Heresy campaign in and around Philadelphia if I can find players.

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